Monday, March 27, 2006

Star Wars - The Clone Wars - I

The Clone Wars is a series of animated shorts that describes the time between the prequels 2 and 3. Essentially, the time when the jedi and the forces of the republic (i.e., the Clone Army) battle the Sith and the droid armies.

The only decent thing about the prequels is the fact that they have a decent overarching story (The fall of a presumably democratic repulic and the rise of an authoritarian empire in its place). Other than that the prequels have inconsistent storytelling, have a bad screenplay, are poorly directed and quite badly acted. I think that the only reason those movies made so much money is that the original star wars leave such a powerful impression on our memories that we are willing to overlook (or rationalise) the bad aspects of the prequels.

Anyway, the good thing about the Clone Wars is that they are not directed by George Lucas. These started of as a set of three minute animated movies made by The Cartoon Network. The first DVD of Clone Wars contains the first twenty three minute shorts.

So, how are they?

The whole thing is a bunch of set-piece battles and fights. The series is setup like a superhero comic with the jedi playing the superheros. I do not have any issue with that :-) Many sequences are clearly anime influenced. I really enjoyed the fights. There's some storyline, I guess, but it does not get in the way of the action :-)

Well, basically, many different Jedi are fighting in many different planets. Dooku and Sidious are cooking upo trouble for Anakin, Yoda is fighting someplace, Two jedi knight women are attacked at a secret jedi cave-place by robots, Kit Fisto is fighting underwater on Mon Calamari, Anakin and Obi-Wan lead an assault on some other planet, Mace Windu is leading an attack on some other place and is showing why he is a badass and finally, General Greivous really messes up some jedi knight's day. That's the whole story.

One thing I never have understood though. You have a massively advanced civilization. Droids, clone armies, super-powerful jedis, laser fire technology and whatnot. But, apparently, their idea of fighting is to line up their troops opposite each other on some convenient plain and have them march at each other whilst shooting their weapons and may the best army win old-chap. Apparently, there's no concept of manoever. The only exception is the ARC troopers (these are the only guys apparently in either side short of the jedi who know that if they are shot at, they should duck :-)).

Other than that, the whole sequnce is quite nicely animated. Lots of eye-candy. While all the sequences were nicely done, some were stand-out.

In all, I rather enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

When the Last Sword is Drawn

This is a japanese movie starring Kiichi Nakai and Koichi Sato. It's called Mibu Gishi Den in Japanese.

It starts off in Meiji era Japan and with an old man taking his grandson to a doctor. A photograph at the doctor's place triggers his memories. Between his and the doctor's recollections, we hear the story of Yoshimura Kanichiro.

Much of the story that is told is set in an interesting period of Japanese history, called Bakumatsu (1853-1869). After 1600 CE, when Tokugawa Ieyasu became the unquestioned Shogun (military overlord) of Japan, the succeeding Tokugawa shoguns became increasingly insular and froze Japan in time, strictly ordering the society and controlling the access to foreign trade. They managed to rule unopposed for the next 250 years. So, when the American Commodore Matthew Perry came with his warships in 1853 to force them to open ports for trade, the Japanese simply did not have the technology to resist. This caused a major upheaval in Japanese society and led to the overthrow of the Shogunate and the establishment of the emperor as the sole titular head of Japan.

Obviously the Shoguns did not go away quietly, and there was a lot of bloodshed. There were pro and anti-Shogunate militias who fought each other. There were a lot of political assasinations. This period threw up some very interesting characters, one of who were the Shinsengumi, a pro-Shogun militia. The Shinsengumi had quite a few strong and famous swordsmen among their number. The Shinsengumi are respected even now as tragic heros and are admired for their fortitude and courage. The Shinsengumi had strict rules for its members, hard training and a hard selection process. If any rules were broken, the offender was ordered to commit seppuku.

Saito Hajime was one of their leaders. He was one of the few of the Shinsengumi to actually survive the period, and went on to become a police officer in modern Japan.

The old man in the beginning of the picture is Saito Hajime. It is this militia that Yoshimura joins.

The doctor and Saito Hajime obviously have different views and different pieces of the story, but the movie stitches these narratives together very nicely. I found it a touch too melodramatic at some places, but it does not detract from the movie.

The sword fights are just awesome. Quite fast and very furious :)

I liked all the characters, but especially Saito Hajime. Koichi Sato played him with cool aplomb. He initially comes across as a cold-hearted murderer but by the end of the movie, I found myself cheering for him. He is just way too cool in a sardonic, the-only-reason-I-am-not-killing-everyone-around-me-is-because-I-don't-feel-like-it-right-now kind of way :-)

Another aspect I really liked was the way the friendships between different characters were portrayed.

This movie reminded me a lot of Twilight Samurai. They are both set in the same time-period, deal with very similar issues (following one's duty, common people being compelled by the ebb and flow of history etc) and the storytelling styles are also quite similar.

In all, I highly recommend it.